Paxton grew up in Ladner, a Vancouver, British Columbia suburb (about two hours from Seattle). He was a huge Ichiro Suzuki fan growing up. But as a lefthanded pitcher, the player he really watched was the Yankees' Andy Pettitte.
Leading up to the 2009 draft, Paxton was constantly being compared to Major League star pitcher Jeff Francis, who is also from British Columbia.
"Both were straight-A students, with a passion and a great work ethic. They could go to an extra level no one could touch due to their desire and motivation. That's why they improved so quickly," said Ari Mellios, former North Delta Blue Jays coach, who had Francis from 1997-99 and Paxton from 2004-06 in the British Columbia Premier League.
"Most kids in our league improve, maybe 5 to 10% one year to the next," Mellios said. (He also coached Justin Morneau.) "These two jumped 50%. James was like Jeff. You looked and thought: 'He'll be okay.' The next year it was: 'Wow, look at how fast he'd come.'"
In 2009, the Blue Jays chose Paxton in the supplemental portion of the first round of the draft, but James chose to return to the University of Kentucky for his senior year.
Blue Jays team president Paul Beeston told a Toronto newspaper that he had negotiated directly with Paxton's adviser, Scott Boras, which would be a violation of NCAA rules. The Wildcats wouldn't allow Paxton to play until he submitted to an interview with the NCAA, and when he couldn't secure a temporary injunction in the Kentucky courts, he left the team and signed with the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs of the American Association, following the paths of several prominent pitchers in recent years, including Tanner Scheppers.
Then, on March 4, 2011, Paxton finally signed with the Mariners for a bonus of $942,500. Scouts Brian Williams and Jesse Kapellusch signed James for the M's.
In both 2012 and 2013, Baseball America rated Paxton as the 4th-best prospect in the Mariners organization. He was at #3 in the offseason before 2014 spring camps.
September 7, 2013: About 12 hours after learning his grandfather died in nearby Vancouver, British Columbia, Paxton won his Major League debut with an impressive six-inning outing.
North Delta general manager Larry Waddell, who coached Paxton, remembers a kid in peewee baseball whose curveball confounded not only opposing batters but his team’s catcher.
“Our difficulty was finding kids who could catch him because he threw the ball so hard and with so much movement,” Waddell said. “He would throw two fastballs past batters for an 0-2 count and, typically, throw a big breaking curveball to get them out. But there were kids who figured this out and would just swing wildly and start running on the third pitch on the expectation the catcher wouldn’t be able to catch the ball. There were innings James struck out four or five kids.”
“I think that his journey has made him very mentally tough,” Ted Paxton, a career counsellor, said of his son. “James sees whatever happens as the journey he needs to take. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to accept and move through adversity. He is just not allowing anything to deter him.”
Ted often caught for James when his boy wanted to practice in Leslie Park, behind their home in Ladner. As James grew, his fastball got harder and his curveball sharper, and his dad more scarred.
“Oh boy, I’ve got all sorts of shin ulcers and lost a couple of toenails,” Ted said. “It was brutal. I thought: Gee, if I want to live through this, I better put on some gear. My brother is an ump, so he lent me his steel-toed boots and shin pads and mask and what have you, and then I went out and caught for James. It was scary, but thrilling. I loved it.”
Growing up in Ladner, B.C., Paxton did not stand out on the diamond or the mound. In fact, he was cut from a local all-star team as a kid and could only watch as his friends got to play. That summer, with help from his dad, he went out and worked vigorously on his game to ensure he wouldn't be left out again.
Slowly but surely he improved and soon thereafter he joined the North Delta Blue Jays in the B.C. Premier Baseball League, arguably the top youth league in the country. From there he was selected to play with Canada's junior national team and eventually earned a scholarship to the University of Kentucky.
At Kentucky, he made even more progress, adding nearly 10 MPH to his fastball and establishing himself as a bona-fide pro prospect.
In 2009, Paxton was drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round (37th overall). However, Paxton did not sign with the Blue Jays. The NCAA ruled him ineligible because of his contact with agent Scott Boras.
In 2010, after being ineligible to return to Kentucky, Paxton signed with the Grand Prairie AirHogs in the independent American Association.
July 2, 2016: Mike Zunino and Paxton, who came up through the Minor Leagues to play in the Majors together, were reunited as a pitcher-catcher duo in the 12-6 win over the Orioles. "There's few guys that can actually work their way up [together]," Zunino said. "And to be able to be a pitcher and a catcher and be able to do that, it's been nice."
Both drafted by the Mariners, Paxton signed in 2011, and Zunino in 2012. They've been up and down since and most recently spent the beginning of the season in Triple-A Tacoma, both working out the kinks before being recalled. Paxton came up on June 1, and Zunino got the call after Steve Clevenger fractured his hand.
Zunino made his season debut, hitting a pair of home runs, including a two-run shot in his first at-bat. He also threw out Orioles shortstop Manny Machado attempting to steal second base. "We've been working together for a long time and kind of learning together," said Paxton, who earned his second win. "He knows me really well and knows what I'm working on, knows what I'm capable of. So it's just nice to have a guy back there to know what I'm thinking."
Both have made changes to their game this season. Paxton has developed his secondary pitches and Zunino has learned how to be patient and take better at-bats. And that all started down in Tacoma. "For me, it was his arm slot," Zunino said of Paxton's progress. "He really found that about halfway through April and he's just made great strides. Its still relatively new to him he's still finding some triggers and where to be consistent at but it's been incredible. His velo has come up. His off-speed stuff's been great. And he's pounding the strike zone."
Paxton has continued to develop in the Majors, so Zunino had to adjust his pitch calling to incorporate the cutter, slider and changeup more. But the chemistry was still intact. "Once you get to build that relationship and they trust you, that's when it's seamless and [there's] not much shaking off, not much second guessing," Zunino said.
And Paxton said he felt very confident with Zunino behind the plate. "I know that Z's going to block anything that I throw up there in the dirt," Paxton said. "He's such a great defensive catcher and great at calling the game. I really enjoy having him back there." (M Lee - MLB.com - July 3, 2016)
James has always appreciated mom Barb Paxton's support. "She would always drive me to practice or come watch when my dad and I used to play catch in the back park," said Paxton. "She was always very encouraging of my baseball and helped me through a lot of tough times. She was nothing but supportive."
Barb Paxton owns The Cloth Shop, a store on Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C., that sells fabric, quilts and the like. At home, she weaved the kind of family life that provided her son a lifeline whenever needed.
"It's just a sense of security," Paxton said. "Early in my career, she always was telling me things were going to be OK and if it was meant to happen, it would happen. Working my way up, she was always encouraging me to stay the course and believe in myself, because she believed in me so much. She was just always there to help me growing up."
Along the way, a woman who didn't play sports herself and knew little about the game of baseball became a fan.
"She was not an athlete," Paxton said. "She's not too big into sports. But since I started playing baseball, she really dove in, and now she's a huge baseball fan. She'll watch games even when I'm not playing or games not even involving the Mariners. She just enjoys the game and stories. Everyone has their own path, and she finds it amazing what players have gone through." (Johns—mlb.com—5/12/17)
King Felix may have his court and his giant turkey legs, but James—nicknamed "Big Maple" as he hails from Canada —now has his very own maple tree.
The Mariners brought an actual maple tree to a section in left field now better known as Maple Grove. They even added a cardboard likeness of his face to the tree. Naturally, given Paxton's Canadian cred, there were plenty of "eh" signs, too.
Paxton seemed to do well with all the foliage in attendance. He pitched seven shutout innings, giving up just four hits and striking out 10. (A big improvement on his previous, maple tree-free outing last time out when he pitched seven innings of one-run ball and struck out only seven.)
"That's pretty cool," James told MLB.com's Greg Johns after the game. "I could hear them screaming, 'Eh, eh' when I'd gotten two strikes. That was pretty fun. It was really cool they came up with that on their own. It's great having support out there." (Clair & Johns - mlb.com - 7/24/17)
April 5, 2018: Anyone that's seen Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" or James Nguyen's "Birdemic," knows that our friendly feathered friends can sometimes turn fowl. James Paxton learned that up close and personal before a game against the Twins.
With a bald eagle out on the field for the Twins' home opener, it seemingly mistook the Big Maple for either a) an actual tree, b) his owner or c) was trained to give the Twins an edge before Paxton took the mound. It landed on his shoulder.
Paxton's wife, Katie Jo, is into kick-boxing. Her dad is also the police chief for a university in her home town.
Nov 30, 2018: James Paxton has heard the pitching-style comparisons many have made to a former Yankees great, even well before Paxton was acquired from the Mariners in a trade on Nov. 19.
The tendencies between Paxton and Andy Pettitte, both mechanical and within their repertoires, have been touted as similar for some time. So it's perhaps fitting that Paxton said Pettitte was one of his favorite players to watch growing up 3,000 miles from the Bronx, across the border and on the other coast in Ladner, British Columbia.
Paxton said on MLB Network's Hot Stove that Pettitte recently reached out to him following the blockbuster trade that sent the former Mariners starter to New York in exchange for Minor Leaguers Erik Swanson, Dom Thompson-Williams and Justus Sheffield, MLB Pipeline's No. 31 overall prospect.
"He texted me after he found out that I was a Yankee and said that he was fired up and excited to see me in Tampa," Paxton said of Pettitte. "I'm really looking forward to picking his brain and learning from him a little bit. He was definitely one of my favorite pitchers growing up."
The exchange with Pettitte was among many that Paxton has encountered in what he described to be a whirlwind since the trade. CC Sabathia and Aaron Hicks have also reached out to him. Paxton has conducted countless interviews, and he's embracing the spotlight that comes with being a member of the Yankees.
"I am really looking forward to playing in New York," Paxton said. "It's going to be a great opportunity for me. We have a really good team there and a really good chance at winning a championship. I can't wait. It's going to be a lot of fun." (D Kramer - MLB.com - Nov 30, 2018)
Nickname: "BIG MAPLE" -- A product of British Columbia, Canada, Paxton got his nickname during his time with the Mariners as a result of the large maple leaf tattoo that he sports on his right forearm. Paxton said that the nickname was coined by former Mariners bench coach Tim Bogar.
June 2010: The Mariners drafted Paxton in the fourth round, out of the American Association.
Jan 13, 2017: Paxton and the Mariners avoided arbitration agreeing to a one-year deal worth $2.3 million.
Jan 12, 2018: Paxton and the Mariners avoided arbitration, agreeing on a deal worth $4.9 million.
Nov 19, 2018: The Yankees addressed a need in the starting rotation by trading for Mariners ace James Paxton. Seattle received three prospects in return, headlined by 22-year-old lefthander Justus Sheffield, who was the No. 1 Yankees' prospect and No. 31 overall. The Mariners also received RHP Erik Swanson, the Yankees' No. 22 prospect, and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.
- Jan 11, 2019: Paxton and the Yankees avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal for $8.5 million.
|Nickname:||The Big Maple||Position:||LHP|
|Birth City:||Ladner, B.C., Canada|
|Draft:||Mariners #4 - 2010 - Out of the American Assoc.|
Paxton has a 92-97 mph four-seam FASTBALL with good running and sinking action. (That is some kind of heat from a lefthander.) He rarely uses his 2-seam 90-95 mph SINKER. He also has an above average 79-82 mph CURVEBALL with a big 12-to-6 break to put hitters away. He has a fair 88-91 mph CUTTER and an 86-89 mph circle-CHANGEUP that gets him a lot of swings-and-misses when it is on. James also has a rarely used 87-89 mph SLIDER.
He is the rare power lefthander who combines high strikeout totals with above average groundball rates. (Spring, 2018)
2016 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 59.7% of the time; Sinker 3.7% of the time; Change 8.2% of the time; Curve 13.1%; and Cutter 15.3% of the time.
2017 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 62.8% of the time; Sinker 2.8% of the time; Change 3% of the time; Slider .6% of the time; Curve 21.3%; and Cutter 9.5% of the time.
James has a clean, almost effortless delivery that gives him good command. He has a free and easy, long-armed motion that works really well. He comes from right over the top. Hitters can see the ball, but it also is a difficult angle to the plate, giving him deception. He comes from a good downhill plane.
But he has a long arm action in the back, bringing one veteran scout to say, "I am concerned about the arm action, both the angle of it and the length. I don’t think they lead to command, nor do I think that the arm action will allow him to learn an additional pitch, make adjustments, or command his fastball to both sides of the plate.”
The scout went on to say that Paxton’s future may be as a lefty set-up man out of the bullpen. And that he likes James' big and imposing size and arm strength.
Paxton's velocity fluctuates because the long-limbed lefty can have trouble repeating his mechanics. He tightened up his delivery a lot late in 2013, which allowed him to pitch well when called up to Seattle in September.
He works both sides of the plate. And he gets a lot of ground balls.
James exhibits very impressive poise. His expression never changes, whether he's struck out three hitters in a row, or if a hitter or two takes him deep.
As of August 2014, Paxton became only the fourth pitcher in the past 100 years to start his career 6-0.
In 2017, Paxton improved in every way, becoming MLB's best starter at limiting damage on balls hit in the air.
Paxton broke out in many ways, but his air-ball contact stands out. Among those 134 starters, Paxton allowed the lowest average exit velocity on air balls at 85.5 mph. He also allowed the lowest rate of air balls hit at or above Statcast's 95 mph baseline for hard contact, at only 26 percent.
For context, MLB batters hit .623 and slugged 1.627 on "hard-hit" air balls last year, as opposed to a .253 average and .316 slugging percentage on anything softer.
Lifting the ball is important, but lifting it and hitting it hard is much better. The best air ball a batter can hit, from a Statcast™ perspective, is a barrel—the optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle that generally produces at least a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage.
No full-time starter allowed a lower rate of barrels per air ball than Paxton, and Seattle's rising ace also allowed the lowest average distance. All of these factors funneled into Paxton's .366 expected weighted on-base average (or xwOBA, Statcast's most advanced metric that considers quality of contact when evaluating how pitchers and hitters should have fared) allowed on air balls, a mark that beat out even Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer for the lowest in our group of 134. MLB hitters posted a collective .461 xwOBA on air balls last year, meaning Paxton was nearly 100 points better than average.
May 8, 2018: Paxton threw a no-hitting against the Blue Jays in his native Canada in a 5-0 victory for the Mariners.
Sep 29, 2018: For one last game in 2018, fans seated in the "Maple Grove" section at Safeco Field chanted "EH" every time Canadian lefty James Paxton had two strikes on a hitter. The "Big Maple" took a no-decision to end the year at 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA, reaching career highs with 160 innings and 208 strikeouts.
Strikeout No. 200 came three pitches into the game, when Paxton got Jurickson Profar swinging on a curveball.
"It was big," Paxton said. "It was great to get to 160 innings like I wanted to do, getting the 200th strikeout was really cool. It was special. Looking forward to building off this season and getting to where we want to get to next year."
April 21, 2019: Paxton became the first pitcher in Yankees history with back-to-back games of 12 Ks and 0 runs allowed.
- As of the start of the 2019 season, Paxton had a 41-26 career record, a 3.42 ERA having allowed 54 home runs and 523 hits in 582 innings.
- In high school, Paxton had some nagging injuries, including a sore elbow and back problems his sophomore year.
- 2009: James had some tendinitis in his left knee.
May 29-July 3, 2012: Paxton was on the D.L. with tendinitis in his right knee.
April 9-August 2, 2014: James was on the D.L. with a strained muscle on the left side of his back. The move was made after an MRI confirmed the original diagnosis of a strained latissimus dorsi muscle.
May 29-September 13, 2015: Paxton was on the D.L. with a strained middle finger tendon on his throwing hand.
August 8-25, 2016: The Mariners placed Paxton on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised left elbow.
May 3-31, 2017: James was on the DL with left forearm strain.
Aug 11-Sept 15, 2017: James was on the DL with strained left pectoral muscle.
July 13-30, 2018: James was on the DL with lower back inflammation.
Aug 15-Sept 1, 2018: Paxton was on the DL with left forearm contusion.
- May 4-29, 2019: Paxton was on the IL with left knee inflammation. Paxton said, "This should be able to be fixed pretty quickly and easily with some anti-inflammatories and the injection. Moving forward, it should move smoothly."